Moving right along: 2000 miles in a Peugeot 205 GTi (CAR archive, 1984)

Published: 01 August 2016

 When we spent 2000 miles in a 205 GTi
► Setright, Barker, Fraser critique super-Pug
► An archive gem from CAR magazine

There are lessons for every single GTi-car in this new-to-Britain sporty Peugeot, the 205 GTi, in which we’ve just travelled 2000 miles. It’s raunchy, rapid and in some ways indecently refined. But there are faults, as four testers affirm with varying vehemence. 

We decided to meet in the Staffordshire Staffordshire village of Flash, for no better reason that the name appealed when it leapt up off the map. Adam Stinson and Colin Curwood would have spent a day in the area photographing the car, I'd be coming north from another job to take the car on Friday evening—to drive it another 1000 miles, gathering experience for Britain's first test. It was only when we all reached Flash that we discovered that as well as picking a village with a remarkable name, we'd come to the highest inhabited place in Britain — 1518ft above sea level and surrounded by some of the finest land there is, with the cleanest air and 360 degrees of peaceful countryside. 

Our 205 GTi was one of the first two right-hand-drive cars to come to Britain, very much a pre-production model with 500 tentative miles on the clock. When we gave it back, the odometer read 2650 miles and the car had been driven and appreciated by a dozen different people, all of whom had admired its driveability and most of whom had complained about its ride. By the time it left us, the car was rather well run-in, with a free-spinning little 1580cc engine that we felt was fit to be compared in every way with the superbly responsive four-cylinder 1.8-litre that powers Volkswagen's doyen of hotshoe saloons, the Golf GTi.

Peugeot themselves have invited a comparison of their fastest small production car with the boss of them all ('boss' by dint of history, no longer by the extent of its superiority over, say, Ford's XR3i) by choosing to use the GTi tag on the 205. Yet the invitation is a red herring. The Peugeot, planned for sale at around £6250, is something like £1500 cheaper than a Golf GTi, it is a whopping 1.1in shorter (though only 2.0in shorter in wheelbase), it is 4.0in narrower, 2.0in lower and weighs a striking 170lb less at the kerb. In its proportions, if not its performance, the Peugeot is far closer to an MG Metro than a Volkswagen Golf, and the price reflects it. 

The 205 GTi makes first use of the pretty three-door body of the model. Compared with the five-door, the car has a pair of new, longer doors, side quarter panels at the rear which surround the stylish and distinctive opening rear windows (shapes first seen on prototype 205 Turbo 16 rally cars), a 15mm lower front spoiler and an extremely neat rear undertray that shrouds the exhaust tailpipe and the rear fog lights. There's lots of tasteful detailing about the car plus a set of snappy drilled alloy wheels running 185/60 HR14 rubber. The effect of it all is not to produce a traffic-stopping car, more a stylish, sporty machine whose modernity and nimbleness is well conveyed by its looks. 

The engine is a 105bhp version of the 1580cc Peugeot which appeared in the 305GT last year. It is a high-compression unit (10.2 to one) which is fed by Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and produces 99lb ft of torque at its peak of 4000rpm. It's an alloy block engine with wet cylinder liners, has its two valves/cylinder operated by a single overhead camshaft whose drive is taken to the top of the engine by a toothed belt. The engine is mounted transversely in the car and canted 30deg to the rear to lower the bonnet height and provide a more favourable weight distribution. The power is put through an end-on five-speed gearbox and then to the wheels through equal-length driveshafts. 

Despite the fact that maximum torque is derived at 4000rpm, Peugeot are at pains to point out that the car has plenty of torque from around 2000rpm onward, something which a spin in the car soon proved. The gear ratios, though higher overall than those of the five-door, 80bhp 205 GT model (which runs the same 1360cc engine as the Citroen Visa GT) tend to be fairly low compared with competitive cars. The top gear gives only 18.7mph/1000rpm which means the theoretical maximum speed of the car, right up against the fuel injection's 6600rpm cut-out, is about 123mph. It takes a quiet engine to support such a short gearing; the Peugeot has one. 

In fact, despite its unfashionable (but close-ratio) gearing, the Peugeot power pack is thoroughly modern. Its fuel injection has a fuel cut-out which operates when the driver comes off the throttle at any speed above 1600rpm. The conrods are forged steel and the pistons are alloy. The plugs, which work in conjunction with a breakerless electronic ignition system, are 'designed to last 15,000 miles' and there's a maintenance-free battery to complete the picture. The engine is mounted on hydro-elastic mounts, the kind which progressive manufacturers are using more and more to bring the absorption properties of both traditional rubber and hydraulic damping to the business of removing vibration, especially from four-cylinder engines. 

The 205 GTi echoes the cooking car's suspension system but has its springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bars re-rated for tougher duty, and in some spots the places where suspension mounts to body are reinforced, too. The front suspension is by MacPherson struts with an anti-roll bar behind the axle line. The rear system is an ingenious and compact independent layout, resembling that used in the 305 estate. Each wheel is mounted on a trailing arm. The two are interconnected by two transverse, parallel torsion bars with opposite mounting points. Incorporated in the trailing arms are two nearly horizontal, longitudinal shock absorbers. The entire axle assembly is just 8.5in high, which does wonders for the depth of the GTi's luggage space. 

Inside, the 205 GTi is impressive and disappointing. The controls are laid out in typical Peugeot fashion, strong on logic, but the quality of the trim materials — especially the door and dashboard coverings – is poor. There's a good carpet which is coloured an urgent kind of red (it only suits some tastes), and though the small, thick-rimmed steering wheel feels great in your hands, it also obliterates several of the more important ancillary instruments (the oil temp and oil pressure dials) and makes the top of the speedo and tachometer hard to see. Perhaps this is a fault of the seating position, which for most of our taller testers was too high. 

The front seats could at the very least do with height adjusters; as it was we found that headroom was none too generous for six-footers in the front (very impressive in the rear). Also the high seating position didn't suit the kind of seats in the GTi, the firmly supportive, bolstered Recaro-style. These seem better suited to a bum-near-the-floor, legs-out-in-front position in the car, rather than the 'commanding' position the Peugeot had. The front seats do offer terrific support for the body, from shoulders to thighs, against cornering forces. They feel sporty and act that way when the car's being used seriously. 

What is truly impressive is the space of the cabin. It's low-waisted and airy, big people can travel in the rear (though getting them in an out can be a bother) and the front passengers are as well catered for as in far bigger saloons. The facia is familiar from previous 205s, but there's a more comprehensive instrument layout (whose graphics seem a little cheap, by current Japanese standards, especially). There's no sign of electronic gimmickry, besides a fairly routine set of warning lights, and the car doesn't suffer for it. Ventilation's good but the fan remains fairly noisy, the controls themselves are among the easiest understood of any car and the equipment level (electric windows, central locking, though no sunroof) is a pleasant surprise. Those no-extra-cost low profile tyres on the big, fat alloy wheels are an indication of serious intent, too. 

There is no better way of confirming this car's serious intent than to take a warmed, run-in example, spin the engine to about 4700rpm, pop the clutch and go. The wheels spin but there's surprising bite from the fat-tyred front wheels, the revs stay close to the torque peak, the forward motion presses you back into the seat and the car rockets forward in a way that, even now, 1.6-litre small cars are not supposed to do. 

The gearchange — another marvellously silky, quick-throw Peugeot effort — needs to be snapped into second at 32mph and 6500rpm, then into third at the redline and 56mph (this slows the 0 to 60mph time to 9.3sec; a Golf GTi manages 60-plus in second and thus takes 8.8sec). Third runs to 77mph at 6500rpm, fourth gets you within a whisker of the ton and the car's flat-out top speed is somewhere beyond 112-115mph. 

Some of our drivers felt the top gearing was just too short; it's not unusual for cars of this type to stride along at 23 or 24mph/1000rpm nowadays, what with their impressive mid-range torque figures. That means a little over 4000rpm on the clock when you're cruising at the ton, not the 5400rpm the Peugeot needs to show. Yet the engine is so quiet and smooth — willing, not busy — at those speeds that it's a little hard to argue with Peugeot's decision. Especially since the economy holds up. Certainly the gearing gives the car plenty of ability to recover speed quickly in top when it's baulked. 

And talking of quietness, the 205 GTi also generates surprisingly little noise other than engine noises when in motion; wind roar is hardly heard below 90mph and quite acceptable for all-day cruising at 100mph, even a little beyond. Road and bump noise is very well contained, in fact a VW Santana we had around West Smithfield at the same time as the GTi, rode rather more noisily, which was quite a surprise. 

And the handling! The compactness and the balance of the car combine with the stickability of the 60-series tyres to give the 205 GTi that brand of handling you experience only in the likes of a Fiat X1/9: you know that whatever the characteristics of the corner that's approaching, the car can cope. It seems able to widen any corner, there's a terrific amount of roadholding available, and the chassis is tuned for a tingle of throttle-off oversteer, the most stable kind. In fact, the car's tendency to tighten its line in corners is delicately variable, according to the amount of engine braking you apply through the admirably throttle-sensitive engine. If there's a criticism, it's the way the rack and pinion steering (3.8 turns, lock to lock) loads up under maximum effort cornering. The sharpness never varies, for all that. 

The car's A-roads speed and passing ability relies on this any-situation competence (there's really not much understeer even in the tightest bends, taken with rubber-peeling ferocity) as well as on the strength of the engine, when delivered through those top three, close ratios. It's a joy to drive fast, this car; one particular dash from Norwich to Birmingham, some of it on saturated roads, a lot of it around lumbering camions, will live in my memory. To do it significantly faster, I'd have to have been on a motorcycle, and a good one. And the fatigue would have been an antidote to my elation, whereas there was none of that in the GTi. Not on that journey, anyway. 

Yet there's no getting away from it: our 205GTi could be a very fatiguing car in some situations where its evidently-oversprung rear end had an effect. I set off from Flash to do 1000 miles in not much more than a day; I gave up at 600 miles because the sheer fatigue the car's curious, low-amplitude bounce caused me as we cruised together in a steady state on apparently-smooth motorways. It induced fatigue. It seemed inexorable at 85mph on motorways, a kind of jiggling motion that bounced your body about in the seat. You seemed to be moving continually, relative to fixed hardware inside the car — and it was on smooth roads where other cars and drivers weren't worried by bumps. 

It's not clear that the problem was with any other car than our early-build rhd test car, though engineers on the European release of the car did acknowledge that the rear dampers lacked sufficient control of the extremely firm rear springs over low speed and over low amplitude bumps. The feeling was that something was being done about it as we discovered it something which involved adjusting the GTi's rear suspension's confined movement. 

Whatever it did, our test car's ride caused controversy. Some drivers acknowledged it but felt we were splitting hairs, because it was 'what you should expect' in a car like this. Others were less defensive about the fault, but still admired the car. A few, as you'll read in an accompanying story, thought the ride spoiled the car. To shed some more light, we took the GTi to a man who must be regarded as Britain's leading authority on suspension, especially ride comfort, a man who has designed road car and Formula One suspensions and who travels by Citroen CX 'to remind me what a good ride is really like'.

He agreed that our particular Peugeot did have a problem, which seemed to be related to the high frequency of its vertical 'bounce' over bumps. He reckoned that in so many ways, the 205 GTi was just right (grip, balance, driveability, security, lack of body roll, terrific bump absorption), but he backed our opinion that the car had problems in steady-state cruising and at low speeds (below 30mph) on uneven roads. It induced fatigue. Better seat damping could have helped (less steel, more foam, broadly speaking) but the real problem was probably to slow the car's response in 'heave' over long bumps. 

But there is no controversy, at the end of the day, about the 205 GTi's desirability. As a car to get into and go hard, it has advantages even over a new Golf GTi —though long distance comfort isn't yet proven as one of them. The car's inspiration factor is sky-high. It is extremely fast in difficult, confined conditions where the roads' coefficients of friction aren't all one might ask. Oh yes, and it's very economical. We averaged near enough to 34mpg over 2000 miles —sometimes as much as 37mpg — which, with an 11gal tank and the cruising quietness we've referred to (French testers say the car is the quietest GTi of all, by a conclusive margin) make the GTi a fine long distance car on two crucial counts. 

Another trip to Flash in a full production GTi, available soon —especially to three winners of our new competition — could well make it more counts again.

Shades of opinion

Unanimity is something car testers approach but rarely reach. These 205 GTi verdicts prove it 

Ronald Barker on the Peugeot 205 GTi

Had the Peugeot management, so keen to ginger up their traditional bourgeois image with a dash of racy effervescence, any doubts about their new-born 205 GTi, they could have picked a gentler terrain than south eastern Spain for our evaluation, and given the cars an intermediate check during the overnight stop. In three words this liveliest and most adventurous Peugeot product feels Right First Time. I didn't find a press colleague who wouldn't be glad to own one, though some might have preferred the four-door GT's quieter style. 

There's no substitute for a healthy power/weight ratio, and the fuel injected 1580cc engine gives 105bhp — 13bhp more than the carburettor version in the Citroen BX, 25bhp more than the 305GT's 1300cc unit. It's totally tractable, with a small delivery from, say, 1200rpm through to the governed peak of 6600 to 6700 where a protective hand cuts off fuel delivery. Sitting on hydro-elastic mounts, the engine is free from shakes and resonant disturbances and never feels stretched. 

For my taste the transmission ratio spacings are beyond reproach, likewise the change-speed quality during sustained, hard driving in hilly country with endless hairpin bends, even the downward snick from three to two was quick and sure.

Today's competition in this category is so strong that indifferent handling and roadholding are the exception. The Peugeot has all the dynamic assets for rating in the best company; a most pleasing blend of tenacity, balanced control, braking and ride comfort. The tyre grip is not too much for ordinary drivers like you and me, and the overall behaviour flatters our abilities. If you can think of a car in terms of average speed potential over second-grade roads rather than those stereotype figures on the spec sheet, the 205 GTi becomes truly formidable. Its compact size and sharp response are ideal for that. 

On a stretch of motorway not quite level, I saw 200km/h (125mph) on the speedo and 6500 on the tachometer—which equates to a little more than the claimed 118mph. More important, at 90-100mph sustained there's amazingly little mechanical or aerodynamic fuss and fuel consumption remains very reasonable. An 11gal tank proves a useful range. In town it's a model of tractability, quite free from front-drive jerks and tantrums. Peugeot's engineers say they are aware that the dampers do not fully control very small wheel movements, hence there is a joggly ride when you're moving slowly over apparently good surfaces. But that is being dealt with now, they say. 

In a surprisingly roomy interior planned for long distance comfort, I was especially impressed by the sliding and tilting front seat movement, so convenient for back seat passengers and/or luggage; also by the plain instruments, and the most completely complex stalk ever for clearing front and back screens. Indeed, after over a (well-serviced) month in the hands of the international press, drivers of greatly varying driving skills, Peugeot's fast cars were still rattle-free, and felt as taut as new. They're good. 

Ian Fraser on the Peugeot 205 GTi

Potholed with compromises, the evolutionary path of the hot-shoe boxes has been trodden by the beastly as well as the beasts. Finding successors to the revered Mini Coopers has been a stumbling affair finally given respectability by the Golf GTi during the '70s, the initially badly botched Escort XR3 in the early '805 and now by the Peugeot 205 GTi which has mostly avoided everyone else's errors. 

What Peugeot have done is to create a separate model, properly styled, properly developed and properly in the mould of the rapidly changing mid-'80s. It has also reaffirmed Peugeot's position as top-echelon makers capable of turning out forefront cars of integrity. 

Around town the 205 GTi is as you would expect: it is as nimble and as agile and as taut, quick-steering little cars with relatively big engines usually are. What distinguishes this one is the fluidity which marks its passage: gearchange, clutch, brakes, steering and brimming torque allow you to be smooth and positive and damned quick — without trying. But what you notice least is the suspension: the car goes across the hazard courses that are called urban roads like a flat-iron over a billiard table. Over the roads that produce anything from filling-loosening jolts in the worst cars to Richter-scale trembles in some of the best, the 205 GTi sails with considerable grace as long as you keep it going at a vigorous pace. It joggles too much in the urban crawl. 

But it was on the open road that the Peugeot convinced me of its worth. Too many hot-shoe boxes rely on noise, vibration and harshness to invigorate the senses with a kind of sporting machoism: not so the Peugeot, As the traffic cleared and I was able to pour on revs, the engine charmed me right out of my scepticism with its smoothness, silence and broad-reaching torque and power bands—such strong middle-range pulling that found myself using fourth instead of third for overtaking A road mobile chicanes, while fifth delivered a loping 85-95mph cruise which I had a tendency to use. The punchline is that the 205 GTi will cruise at 100 if you want, although by then the noise level has risen nearer the edge of acceptability. Slightly higher gearing would probably help. Even so, it was the ease with which the Peugeot covered the ground that impressed me most of all. And the completeness of the vehicle was the telling factor in that.

Hot-shoe boxes have traditionally been so incomplete that I have been unable to visualise owning one as everyday, every journey transportation. Evolution has changed that, so despite my increasingly finickity standards, the 205 GTi enters my list of highly desirables. 

LJK Setright on the Peugeot 205 GTi

Setright has become notorious for failing to see why everybody else should be so wildly enthusiastic about the Peugeot 205. Driving a disguised prototype 205 GTi last September strengthened his dissidence, but the production version alters the picture. 

For instance this was the first 205, of six sampled, to make no wind noise. The body is now evidently as smooth as it looks (despite the visibly poor fit of the trim around the wheel arches), and its low drag must account for the brilliant upper-range acceleration. Lots of little whizzbangs may manage 0-60mph as fast as the Peugeot, though few can feel so delightfully light, but 0-100mph in 23sec is surely exceptional. 

This lightness is one of the greatest virtues of the 205. Another is that unbelievably sweet gearchange, a Peugeot speciality. Comfortable seats used to be another, abetting the wonderfully undisturbed ride produced by painstakingly developed suspension: Peugeot were pioneers of compliance engineering when adapting to radial-ply tyres, when the old 404 was en ventre. These qualities are missing from the 205 GTi: the seats are well shaped, but one is flung violently about the car by an absolutely appalling ride from what must be the worst suspension I have encountered in a decade, so bad as to make the infamous inadequacies of the Escort (when it was new) quite acceptable. As Ford were castigated for that, Peugeot should be crucified forth's. 

It is neither too late for them to redeem themselves nor unlikely that they will. Considering the profound depression which affects the rear of a laden basic 205, it is easy to understand the quandary of over springing and under damping in which Peugeot find themselves at the rear of the GTi. Even without recourse to the suspension experts at Citroen, they should be able to correct it by using truly progressive-rate media for both functions, or by employing motorcycle-type linkages to procure the same effect. It will cost something, but surely the promise of the GTi is enough to justify it? 

It cannot be easy to make a really fast and surefooted version of a little economy box-car. Some parts of the job are such as anybody could do, such as installing an uprated version of the biggest engine one can fit, and supplying it with Bosch injection — though the job was botched in this car, failure of the overrun fuel cut-off to open again in good time causing the car to stall when halted. Good tyres (Michelin MXV) and fancy wheels demand little more than money and space, the former being partially recouped by a cheap choice of tacky trim; but what those fat feet do to the steering geometry deserves investigation.

The usual feel is light and precise, but self-aligning torque mounts alarmingly when cornering forces are built up — and the car certainly invites such treatment. it truly does go very briskly indeed, for what it is — but whatever it may be, it is not characteristic of the best of Peugeot practice in the past. It is such a shame that they should feel compelled to rival others, instead of specialising in the things that they themselves do so well. 

Read more CAR archive content here

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

Comments